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How Can Terrorizing a Civilian Population be a Right?

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Message Bahija Reghai
On December 27, 2008, Israel launched, without warning, a bombing campaign that lasted 22 days and nights. The physical impact of this assault on Gaza was assessed by doctors, who published a damning report: as of 25 January 2009, the death toll was estimated at 1,350 with the numbers increasing daily because the wounded are still dying in hospitals.  60% of those killed were children, specified the article. (The Wounds of Gaza, The Lancet, February 2, 2009). 
Given the Palestinian death toll, some say that Israeli targets are civilians, the militants being the "collateral damage". In spite of this and other reports by UN agencies and Human Rights organizations, the brutal assault on the whole population in Gaza is still being called "self-defence" by Israel and friends.  How can anyone consider the use of heavy bombs, fuel air explosives, silent bombs and the targeting of ambulances self-defence? 
These bombings are not happening in a vacuum. Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for decades without respecting the Geneva Conventions as the occupying power must. The people who defend the Israeli onslaught, through ads, editorials, commentaries and speeches should take a second look at their uncritical support, based mainly on propaganda and misinformation. The ceasefire was broken by Israel on November 4, 2008, when its troops invaded Gaza and killed 6 Palestinians. Unlike other conflicts, Palestinian civilians were and still are held hostage by the siege. They could not escape from Gaza during the bombing, and they cannot now, even for urgent medical treatment, unless authorized by Israel.

Clearly Israel may not be inside Gaza continuously, but it controls all its borders and, as a prison warden, decides who and what gets in and out. Not only the West Bank, but Gaza is indeed still under Israeli occupation. During the emergency debate on Sri Lanka held by the Canadian House of Commons early February 2009, no one suggested that the Tamil militants were "deliberately" putting civilians at risk by storing arms and conducting attacks" as was done with regard to Palestinians.  In fact, Canada's junior foreign minister, Peter Kent, who in spite of sketchy details on the UNWRA school bombing stated that Hamas "bears full responsibility", said rightly during the emergency debate, that: "We have also repeatedly impressed upon all parties our grave concern over the deteriorating human rights situation and the need for an international presence to report on human rights violations. Through bilateral meetings and multilateral fora such as the Human Rights Council, the Government of Canada continues to express our concerns regarding reports of violations of humanitarian rights and humanitarian law." This should have been the proper balanced stand for the government to take in the case of the Palestinian civilians as well.  Liberal Irwin Cotler remarked that: "As we meet, over a quarter of a million Tamil civilians are trapped within a 300 square kilometre conflict area. They are in need of urgent medical care, humanitarian assistance, media access and independent verification with respect to the conflict situation." There are 1.5 million people trapped in Gaza , half of them children that were and still are in need of medical care, but also "of independent verification with respect of the conflict situation."

However, Israel has refused, and Canada has opposed such independent oversight by the United Nations. Canada abdicates its legal responsibilities as a signatory of the Geneva Conventions when it plays politics instead of ensuring respect for the rule of law.  The million dollar Hasbara program of Israel and friends against Palestinians is rife with misinformation and Newspeak, as is much of the terminology used by Canadian media and parliamentarians to callously politicise what the whole world knows full well is a shameful humanitarian disaster.  Statements issued by both the Canadian government and the Official Opposition would lead one to believe that Palestinians invaded and decimated Israel, and not the other way around.  Debating the Sri Lankan crisis in Parliament was the right thing to do. Similar discussion should take place for the Palestinian crisis. Members of Parliament will then have the opportunity to show their commitment to promoting fairness and equality, or in the words of Prime Minister Harper, "uphold the rule of law, that precious companion of democracy that protects free, civilized societies from violence, oppression and anarchy." 

Bahija Réghaï is president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR)
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Bahija Reghai is a Canadian Human Rights activist and a former president of the National COuncil on Canada-Arab Relations (NCCAR).
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